It was great to be playing at home, thrilling to finally get to play in front of a raucous, near-sellout crowd inside the Garden. That’s what the Knicks said. As events go, Game 1 of the Knicks-Hawks playoff series was something to behold.
The game itself? Close, taut and ultimately a downer for the Knicks. They lost it, officially, in the final seconds but certainly did nothing early in the game to make the Hawks feel uncomfortable or intimidated, playing on the road, in a hostile and amped-up environment.
Rather than jump on the Hawks, the Knicks allowed them to take a lead and gain confidence. The Knicks missed 14 of their first 17 shots. They looked out of sorts. Their best player and only All-Star, Julius Randle, admitted as much.
“It was hard, man,” Randle said. “The adrenaline was going so crazy, by the time the second half came, I was done. My energy had crashed. I had an amazing time, even though we lost. It was a learning experience.’’
What the Knicks hope they learned, heading into Game 2 Wednesday night, was to calm the heck down.
Not everyone subscribed to the theory that there were early jitters. Reggie Bullock missed all five of his 3-point attempts but did not sense in himself or his teammates a case of playoff-opening nerves. But he did admit there might have been something out of the ordinary.
“Nah, I felt like we had that energy all year from the fans that we had, it felt like we had the support,’’ Bullock said. “Obviously this was something we planned at the beginning of the year, to make it to the playoffs. So maybe people had a little butterflies to come into this, but at the same time we are professional basketball players. It’s all about us playing hard and playing tough.’’
There is no doubt something was up with Randle, who on Tuesday was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player. It is not only that his offensive effectiveness (6 of 23 shooting) was uncharacteristically shoddy. It was also his body language on the court, his lack of decisiveness. It looked exactly what in actuality it was: The first career playoff game for the 26-year old Randle.
“Like I always say, that was his first one, this was his first series,’’ veteran guard Derrick Rose said. “So right now he’s just got to be patient. I remember going through that. Everybody has it at different stages of their career. I got mine out of the way the first year, playing against the Celtics and all that. So I totally get what he’s talking about. It’s about just calming yourself down, understanding being in the present, trying not to overthink everything.
“Everything, all the hard work that he did this year and the summer, he got up to this point. So he’s just got to keep playing his game, keep trusting his game like he’s always been doing. And just knowing that he’s always got help, reading the game, the double-teams are coming a lot quicker. He has to move around instead of just being in one spot because the angles are coming from the baseline, sometimes they’re coming off the passer. They’re changing things up. He’s just got to read the game and it’ll make it easier for himself.’’